‘Quinn! Quinn!’ She turned at the voice. There was Clarissa waving at her as she strode across the street, dodging a passing black cab. She rushed over and gave Quinn a quick peck on the cheeks in greeting. Quinn gave her one in return.
‘Thanks for joining me.’
‘My pleasure. It’s always fun to shop for clothes.’ Clarissa looked at the shop behind her. ‘So, this is the famous Harvey Nicks.’ She gave Quinn a doubtful look. ‘Do you think you’ll be able to find what you’re looking for here?’
Quinn examined the manikins in the window. They were elegantly arranged to portray the latest styles. Well, it’s fashionable, that’s what I need. ‘Of course. It has all sorts of outfits; come on.’ She strode for the door.
They entered the shop and Quinn made a bee line for the Isabel Marant section. On the way, she passed racks with various styles of dresses and trays of accessories. She ignored most of what she saw, being fixed on her destination.
‘Hey Quinn, this looks fabulous.’
Quinn turned to find Clarissa busily examining a black and white off the shoulder cocktail dress. Quinn eyed the label. Rebecca Vallance. ‘That’s not really suitable for work.’ It might do, though for one of Daddy’s dos. ‘How much is it?’
‘Three hundred and thirty quid. I think it’s a bit beyond my budget.’
Quinn came over and examined the dress. ‘You’ve got a good eye for style, it’s lovely.’ She fingered the item. ‘Do you really think I’d look good in this?’
‘Absolutely. Why don’t you try it on?’
‘I don’t think so. I’m here to get some new outfits for work.’ I need to look the part, don’t I. She gestured at the dress. ‘When would I wear it?’
‘Well, summer’s coming on. I’m sure there’ll be occasions.’ I doubt it.
‘Did I tell you, my internship’s been extended? Between Dancy’s dinners with clients, Daddy’s gatherings and the work at Number Ten, I’ve no time to socialise. I haven’t seen any of our uni friends in ages. I’ve no time for parties.’
Clarissa laughed. ‘You’re not alone. Remember how we all promised to keep in touch. It’s all I can do to post occasionally on Facebook.’
Clarissa took the dress down and held it up in front of her. ‘It’s stunning, really.’ She giggled and passed it over. ‘It’ll look better on you than me.’
‘I think you’d look lovely in it.’
‘No, no, I can’t afford it. You try it on.’
‘Oh, well, if you insist.’ There’s no denying it, it’s a beautiful outfit. She took the dress and headed for the changing rooms.
Before she got there, a shop assistant emerged from behind a clothes rack and accosted her. ‘I see you’ve found one of our new season dresses. Isn’t it a beautiful design. It’ll be perfect on you. Now, would you like me to find some other dresses for you to try on as well?’ Her eyes quickly went over Quinn. ‘A darker colour would really help bring out your blond hair. There’s a nice Red Valentino I’d recommend if you don’t like the Vallance. If you’re willing to pay a bit more, I would also recommend you try on the latest Proenza Schouler.’
‘I’m not really looking for party outfits. I’m actually here to try and find some new clothes for work. It’s just that…’ Where’s Clarissa? Quinn scanned around. She had disappeared. ‘…it looks so beautiful.’ Pith, what am I saying?
‘It really suits you.’
‘That’s reassuring. To be honest, I’m very unsure of what’s best for me right now.’ Why am I telling her this?
‘When was the last time you were sure of what to wear?’
‘I’m not sure.’ That’s right. Ever since that run in with Aiden, I’ve looked at my wardrobe and hated everything in it.
‘The dress is so you.’ The sales assistant led her towards the changing booths. ‘Try it on, there’s a mirror inside. While you do, would you like me to fetch you some suitable work outfits?’
‘Yes, please, that would be very helpful.’
‘What kind of work do you do? Advertising? The City? Law?’
‘Government.’ I don’t think you’d understand if I told you I worked in the Cabinet Office.
‘Perfect, may I suggest the officer combo.’ She swooped off towards the rear of the shop. If you think it’ll suit me.
Quinn went in and closed the curtain. Taking off her clothes she tried on the dress. She examined herself in the mirror. Not bad. I can see what she means by the dress and my hair. It really stands out. But I can’t really justify it. Then she had an impromptu thought. Dancy, would want me to have it. But three hundred quid! She looked at herself in the mirror again. I’d look good at one of Daddy’s dos in this. Maybe I’ll splash out.
The curtain parted. ‘Hello. How you’re doing in there? Would you like my opinion on the dress?’
‘Oh yes. Do come in.’ If you think it suits me, I’ll get it and ask Daddy to pay for it. There’s also my work outfits to pay for.
The assistant came in. She had several sets of clothes with her, which she hung on a convenient rail. She gazed at Quinn in approval. ‘It’s really you, isn’t it? Does things for your eyes and hair. It’s as if it was made for you.’ Yes, I have to admit it, you’re right.
‘I’ll probably take it.’
‘Now for the other items. I’ve brought you some of the latest in work outfits.’ She held up what looked like a soldier’s uniform. ‘If you’re going to succeed at work, then you need to dress the part. How about this; it exudes authority.’ It was a dark blue jacket, like those worn by the navy, including a certain amount of braid. Do I want to look like a sailor? I can just hear Aiden calling out “Hello sailor.” No thanks.
‘I somehow don’t think it’s me.’
‘Well, we’ve other styles.’ She hung it up and unclipped another one. ‘How about this?’ What is that? Why would I dress as if I was off on a safari? Besides, I don’t suit beige and green at all. It makes me look all washed out.
‘I can’t see myself wearing that. Besides, the colours are all wrong.’
‘Well, may I suggest this?’ She held up a gaudy top and short skirt combo. That looks like something out of a Marvel movie. No way!
‘I think not.’
‘I’ve got another one you’re sure to like.’ She presented to Quinn what looked like a cowgirl outfit, complete with checked shirt and jeans. No! No! No! I wear that to work. Aiden could get away with it, but I can just imagine the PM sneering at my dress sense. She’d probably send me home to change if I turned up in that.
‘Sorry, that’s totally unsuitable. Don’t you have anything more traditional?’ Like a suit, for God’s sake!
‘What defines movers and shakers now are the gutsy, daring outfits of real authority figures. What you should be wearing are bold choices that combine different styles.’
‘What’s so wrong about a suit?’ I don’t want to look like some carnival animal. I want to be taken seriously.
‘Oh, please! No one will now take you seriously in a suit. It’s all wrong; it’s as if you’re trying too hard. Now it’s fashionable to look relaxed at work, as if it’s pleasurable, just like you would be at a festival.’ I can’t wear cut-offs with bare legs and open-toed sandals to the office, as if I’ve just returned from Glastonbury. Who’s pushing this?
‘I need something more traditional, it wouldn’t do to look as if I’ve just come back from the beach. A suit would be perfect.’ Doesn’t Harvey Nicks have suits? I’m desperate. If you have to, get me something from the men’s department.
‘Tsk-tsk. A suit makes it look like you’re trying too hard. Today, the perfect work attire combines the feminine with the practical, sauced with a touch of the exotic. Now, what you need is a flowered mini-dress,’ she looked down at Quinn’s feet, ‘with lilac ankle boots. They are perfect with fishnets and a Louis Vuitton tote bag. It makes you seem powerful and mysterious at the same time.’
‘It’s just not me. Not at work.’
‘Well, bell-shaped miniskirts, disco trapeze dresses, white stretch jeans, metallic shorts and sports bra are all the rage now and this spring’s most popular look for women. You’ll look dowdy in anything else.’ Help! It used to be so simple.
‘Thank you. I think I’ll just take the dress and leave the work outfit for another time.’
The assistant nodded. ‘I’ll be outside when you’re ready.’ She went out, closing the curtain behind her.
Quinn quickly changed back into the clothes she had come in and stepped out of the booth. There was no sign of the assistant, but Clarissa was standing nearby looking at her.
‘Well, aren’t you going to let me see you in the dress?’
‘I’ve been waiting outside all the time you’ve been in there. You’ve taken an age. I was beginning to think I’d somehow missed you coming out.’ She laughed. ‘I thought you’d sneaked out the back way.’
‘Now that’s just stupid.’ Quinn searched around the shop. ‘Where’s the assistant who was here?’
‘What? A sales lady?’ Clarissa gestured towards the checkout. ‘I think there’re some by the tills. We can go over there and find one.’ So where did the assistant go?
‘No, that won’t be necessary. Let’s see if I can find something to wear to the office.’
* * *
Ahmed drove the Merc into the parking lot, positioned it, got out and locked it with the remote. He walked over to the kiosk where Eddie was sitting watching him from the window. Hope he’s in a good mood. ‘Howdy.’ He went into the kiosk.
‘You’re late back. Been another long night?’ You’ve no idea. Bidding on hires and not getting them. Then that $£%& who’s sick all over the back seat.
‘Yeah, a bitch. Had a puker and had to clean it up, didn’t I. that’s why I’m late. Sorry.’
‘Hope you did a good job. Car’s needed for a wedding Saturday.’ Eddie got up. ‘Gotta check it out. Pass me the keys.’ Ahmed handed them over and Eddie strolled out and over to the car, unlocked it, opened the passenger door and stuck his head into the back. He remained like that a moment before backing out and closing the door before returning. ‘Smells rotten.’ He deposited the keys on the small table.
‘It can’t do. I cleaned it.’
‘Sorry, Ahmed, gonna have to get it valeted. That’s gonna cost eighty quid. And I’m gonna have to charge you for it.’
‘Ah, no. I cleaned it good, didn’t I?’ Eighty effing quid, where am I gonna get that? You’re mucking with me Eddie.
‘Must be your bad news day. I’ve also got a penalty notice on the car. You musta gone into the zone the other day without knowing it.’
Eddie rummaged around and found the envelope with the Transport for London logo on it. He passed it over.
‘Tuesday.’ How could I have gotten a ticket for this? ‘I brought the car back home that morning. Was in bed at seven-thirty. It must be some mistake.’
‘Think back, Ahmed. Did you enter the zone on your way home?’ I had taken a hire to Hampstead then headed home. &*$%£! Must have.
‘Yeah, probably did.’ But you paid the charge, didn’t you? You said you’d done it.
‘Well, that’s it then.’
‘But how? You paid for the day when I picked up the car on Monday.’
‘Yeah, but this’s another day; charge goes from midnight, don’t it. You got done on Tuesday morning.’ He tapped the counter. ‘I’ll need a hundred and sixty to cover the fine and the cleaning.’
‘That’s more than I made last night.’ How am I going to pay this? I’m bleedin’ out of dough.
‘I tell yah what; bring it tomorrow when you pick up the motor.’
‘Eddie, that’s great. Will pay you tomorrow for sure.’
‘And I’ll have the Merc cleaned up and ready for yah.’
‘You needn’t rush. I’ll take the Prius.’
‘Ah, well, that’s a problem that is. See, given you’d switched to the Merc, I’ve rented it out.’
‘It’ll be back in a couple of days. Well, there’s still the Merc, like.’ Eddie fiddled with the Transport for London envelope. ‘You’d better pay the charge for two days, eh, so it doesn’t happen again. That’s another forty-three quid you need. So, bring two hundred with yah, OK?’ $%£* where am I going to find that kind of dough? With the car hire, petrol, and all, I’m skint.
‘Fine. Thanks, Eddie.’
‘Ahmed remember the rules: no cash, no car.’
‘Sure, sure. I’ll have the folding.’ I’ll manage somehow. Two hundred, I can get that. What will I say to Fatima when she asks for some house money?
Feeling despondent, Ahmed left to catch the tube home.
As he journeyed, he sat looking at nothing. Money, money money Two stops before his station, his eyes drifted up to an advertisement above the seats opposite him. It was for Wonga and it promoted their short-term loans. Nah, I don’t need that. I’ll ask Mohammed for what we need. He owes me. Now, I gotta remember to keep some folding to cover these things. I can’t keep getting money from family and friends.
He felt quite cheery when he entered the flat, pleased to be home.
Fatima came out of the kitchen and stood staring at him. ‘Ah, there you are. I’ve been trying to get hold of you.’
Oh! I forgot to put my phone back on. ‘Phone battery’s flat. Forgot to charge it.’
‘And if I needed to get in touch?’
‘Well, I’m home, ain’t I.’ Stop moaning.
‘The oven’s broke.’ What? %^$&
‘Did you get Yasin to come over?’ He’s smart, he’s fixed it before.
‘I did. He said it’s finished. There’s nothing he can do. Ahmed, he says we need a new one. He can find us one, but it’ll cost a hundred and fifty. He can bring it round later.’ A hundred and fifty! Where am I supposed to get that?
‘We ain’t got that sort of money.’
‘I know, but we’ve just got to; I can’t do meals without a cooker.’ What about your family helping us?
‘Do you think Mohammed would lend us some for a bit? He’s your uncle. Can you call him.’
‘I already did. He said he couldn’t this time as he’d promised to help his brother pay for his daughter’s wedding. What about Omar?’
‘I still owe him money. I can’t ask him.’ Who can I ask? He ran through his friends and relations. He drew a blank. Wait. What about the ad in the tube. ‘I’ll get the money. A hundred and fifty, you said.’
‘I’ve got to make a call.’ Ahmed stomped off towards the bedroom and closed the door behind him. Now where’s the number?